The Dark Side of My Brain   Leave a comment

I’ve had a week off from school now and the whirl has subsided.  When school is in session, my life feels like it has direction and meaning, however short-term and contrived.  In some ways getting another degree feels ridiculously arbitrary as a goal, like digging a hole in the ground and knocking a ball into it with a stick, becoming really good at stick-swinging, better than anyone else (though a hole-in-one actually benefits no one).  Of course I hope I can be of benefit to others through counseling, and I hope it can keep us financially in the black even though I will be starting a new career at 60.  At least counseling pays better and is more physically sustainable into old age than pitching 50 pound bags of mulch into people’s trucks at Home Depot.

When I’m no longer pressed by arbitrary class deadlines, the expansiveness that opens up blows emptiness into my soul.  Why am I here?  What meaning does my life have?  How can I make a difference in a world that has sloughed me off like Teflon?  Even wearing an orange apron and pointing at the wasp spray is a distraction from the hollowed out feeling of having no purpose but to somehow survive until death relieves me of that obligation.

Each day at work is measured in hours passing–to somehow fill the time until my first break, then slog 2 hours till lunch, then manage to stay busy enough till the afternoon break, which puts me close enough to the end of my shift to give faint hope of escape.  That game of monotony is still better than sitting at home trying to make sense of the life I was handed like a bag full of small parts that come with no explanation or instructions.

It helps a little to talk about it, so thanks for listening.

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Posted April 28, 2018 by janathangrace in Personal

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A Quick Wave as We Pass   2 comments

Well, all my good intentions for Lent got squeezed out of my life by the bullies of work and school.  They crowded out any extra room, leaving no time, energy, or emotional space to reflect and sit with healing thoughts.  Kimberly’s work schedule and mine are not only constantly changing, but misaligned so that we only have time to connect at a basic level, but no time or energy to go deeper.  I came home night before last and told Kimberly, “I HATE this school!”  It is that time in the semester when everything is coming due and I have no extra time to complete the major projects.  Perhaps when I have a semester break I will have a chance to paint from the Lent pallet.

Posted March 29, 2018 by janathangrace in Personal

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Breaking Good   Leave a comment

Our closest relationships are the source of our greatest longing and deepest pain, so we armor-plate our souls against the danger. The only access is through the chinks in our armor where both arrows and salve can reach our core, and we martial all our defenses to these vulnerable spaces, blocking out both suffering and compassion. It is a terrifying dilemma.  For love to touch and heal our wounds, we must reveal them and face possible rejection.  The closer our relationship, the more power it carries to heal and to harm.

We all hide our so-called weaknesses with our individual schemes: humor or dominance, popularity or withdrawal. The better our defense mechanisms work, the safer we are from pain but the farther from deep relationship.  My major defense was over-achieving, stuffing the gaps of failure with redoubled efforts at success… until the whole structure imploded.  My greatest sacrifices and determination could not stop failure.  And out of that ruin, genuine life began to grow.  Those of us with broken defenses suffer most, but are closer to genuine connection and healing.

Kimberly tried to find safety by making everyone around her happy.  She was good at it.  They called her “Sunshine.”  But inside she was dying as she stifled her own feelings and views to make room for everyone else’s.  Both of us were too wounded to keep our shields up, but we found in each other a tenderness that invited deep connection.  Our shared brokenness created a level of intimacy that few experience.

Posted February 26, 2018 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Beauty from Ashes   5 comments

Eleven years ago on a forested mountain covered with treacherous ice, sparkling like slivers of glass in the sun, Kimberly said “Yes!” to me.  I slipped on her finger a ring that we designed together, two light blue opals, the color of her eyes, surrounding a teardrop diamond.  My wedding ring was a simple circle of beaten gold, showing the rough marks of the hammer blows that shaped it.

Our stories have always been forged by pain and sorrow, and we were embracing this together, the sadness and the beauty.  It is the seeping wounds of cut limbs bound together that creates the miracle of grafting, the agony and glory of each coursing through the veins of the other.  It is not just slow healing that we find, but a hybrid bouquet that far surpasses the beauty of either flowering branch on its own.

How perfect that our 11-year engagement anniversary should combine Valentine’s day and Ash Wednesday.  How apropos that I inadvertently wore black pants and a red shirt yesterday to school where I had my one class called “Spirit and Trauma.”  I came home to a living room full of lit candles, and Kimberly and I shared with one another our struggles and hopes, inviting God to pour in his grace.

Beginning with advent, our motto has been “find the beauty,” and for this season of Lent we have refined it to, “find the beauty in lament.”  This week we will remember the goodness that has come to our marriage through our brokenness.  “There is a crack in everything.  That’s where the light gets in.”  Our deep, genuine, close connection is the bond of shared sorrows through stumbling love.  This week we will name each facet of that unique beauty of brokenness to one another.

Posted February 15, 2018 by janathangrace in Personal

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The Underground Turbulence   2 comments

I have posted very little about my internal journey for some months because I was too stressed, anxiety having blanketed my depression.  This summer I was dragging myself along,step by shaky step under this heavy weight when school attacked me like a bear.  I ran for my life, but as I got away from the bear, the weight returned.  Where did all that extra energy come from and where did it disappear to again?  Why can’t I manufacture an adrenaline rush, live hopped-up all the time sans anxiety… pretend there is a bear I am fleeing, but a friendly bear that doesn’t make me anxious… oh, I see why that doesn’t work.  I guess fear is not a good antidote to depression, though I appreciated the diversion.

It rains here all winter long, so seasonal affective disorder (weather related depression) is a common aspect of living in this area, but it has little impact on me simply because my depression is deeper than that.  One must have pleasure in the sun for its absence to be missed.  It may be a contributing factor, but not a major one.  A much bigger factor is my lack of close friendships.  In an email reply, I told a friend he was the last close friend I had.  That was 13 years ago.  A recent study determined that lack of social connection was the number one variable in predicting early death.  But it is hard to find meaningful connections in our fragmented, mobile society, especially for men apparently.

So my heart goes out to those of you who are lonely, struggling, shuffling cautiously through a dark and foreboding world.  Know that you are not alone and that I for one am deeply sympathetic to your plight.  For some of you, getting out of bed in the morning is a greater step of courage and faith than others need to skydive or perform on stage.  May you feel God’s loving and caring heart today.

 

Posted January 25, 2018 by janathangrace in Personal

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PART V: Was This a Bad Idea?   12 comments

Now before unpacking the truck, I have to unpack an important detail about rodents.  We moved from a 2000 square foot home in Virginia to a 1000 s.f. rental house in Asheville (but paying a lot more for it).  We tossed out a lot of stuff and crammed the rest into one bedroom.  But something else found a cozy spot in there this past summer.  We found mouse droppings.  I set a humane trap, and when I caught the mouse, I took him two miles away, loosing him in a wooded area.  We found more mouse droppings.  Over several months we caught 5 mice, requiring ever more ingenuity.

MOUSE

KIMBERLY’S GRAND FINALE

We knew they were hiding out in our storage room and clearly reproducing, but we had no way to clear them out of that solid wall of tightly packed stuff.  These were the boxes we would be loading onto the truck, transporting our infestation to Washington with us.  Our fears came true when I found a nest of three baby mice in a mattress cover while loading the truck.  What else had I missed?  I could think of only one solution.  When we reached Washington and the two of us got ready to unpack our 26-foot van, we emptied every box inside the truck, checking for mice, then repacked it to carry inside.  We did not finish in a day.

As we were setting up house, we started transferring bank accounts, phones, licenses, car insurance and titles.  That’s when Kimberly discovered there was a warrant out for my arrest.  I thought she was joking.  She wasn’t.  I was on a national registry because I had not paid last year’s car insurance in Virginia.  Yeah, because I WASN’T LIVING IN VIRGINIA!  Kimberly and I have moved multiple times across many states and never had this issue before, but Virginia DMV apparently requires car owners to provide proof that they have moved out of state.  We soon discovered there was an arrest warrant out for Kimberly as well.  She spent hours (literally) on many phone calls over two weeks to finally resolve it.  But proving our innocence did not remove us from the national registry. That cost us $150 each.

In the middle of all this craziness, I was trying to hold it together in school.  Missing a week mid-semester had set me back seriously in my studies.  The practicum was not the only important class I missed in our drive west.  I had a key paper due that Monday for another class.  I finished most of my research beforehand and took books with me on the flight to Asheville, but when I saw I would miss class, I spent two nights in hotels pecking away at my computer (after driving 13 hours) and sent it over the internet.  It was not my best work, but it would have to do.  A few weeks after moving into our new apartment, my graded paper was returned.  I got an ‘F.’  That was a shocking first for me.

After explaining my situation to the professor, she allowed me to rewrite the paper (with a letter-grade deduction).  Unfortunately, this completely consumed my reading week which was designed to give us time to finish other assignments, so I ended the week as far behind as ever, but also confused and anxious.  I was mystified by my grade, even after looking back over it carefully with the grading matrix in hand.  I sat down with the teaching assistant to get clarification and left as confused as I had come.  I could not understand their expectations or how to meet them.  If I failed my coursework, then “just survive” was a meaningless motto… and moving across country was a huge waste of money and effort. Doubts, turmoil, confusion swirled through me, and anxiety more severe than I have ever experienced.

That’s a snapshot of my whole life: determined to take the right course while working with a busted compass.  I never seem to hear that voice, “Here is the way, walk ye in it.”  A little guidance here would be appreciated, God, instead of leaving me in the dark guessing which way to turn.  Two weeks ago I got my grades.  I made straight A’s.  I don’t know how.  Apparently one can stumble around in the dark and still make it home.

But that’s chancy.  I need clarity to ensure I win that full affirmation: “Well done you good and faithful servant.” That’s my final report card, the measure of my effort and commitment… my A.  Except it isn’t.  Once again I remember that all God wants is my open, honest, struggling, broken heart, and I can give that to him today apart from any goals, plans, or accomplishments, even in the midst of all my confusion.  He needs nothing from me.  He just wants me.  I am already safely home, accepted in the beloved.

 

Posted January 19, 2018 by janathangrace in Personal

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Part IV: Cross-Country Nightmare   2 comments

My studies suffered from a month of homelessness while working 25 hours a week and trying to get settled in a new place—learn the transportation system, look for affordable housing, plan for moving our household across country mid-semester.  I was dependent on internet connection for directions, classwork, and local information, but my phone would not connect to the internet even when I had 5-bar reception.  Then my computer started dumping me from wifi.  Fearing a virus, I restored both to factory settings only to realize my word-processing software was in Asheville.  I now had no means to write school papers. Each assignment deadline seemed like a flash flood that nearly drowned me (I had about 15 papers due for the semester).  My motto became, “just survive.”

I planned to fly to North Carolina on a Wednesday after my last class and get back in time for my Monday class.  Kimberly was sure we could not make it across country in three days in a moving van, but I had a new urgency.  After buying non-refundable tickets and booking a truck, I discovered that my Monday class, a year-long counseling practicum, only allowed for one absence per semester.  My two hour commute to school was by bike (or car), ferry, and a mile walk. I needed a spare absence in hand in case of sickness, accident, or a cancelled/missed ferry because a second absence would fail me, wiping out the year, delaying graduation and greatly increasing an already heavy loan.

I arrived in Asheville Wednesday night, slept little, and interrupted early morning prep to go get the truck at 8:30 when Budget opened.  The couple ahead of me in line had a reservation, but after 30 minutes of phone calls, the agent sent them away with nothing.  Thankfully she had our size truck in the lot.  Since volunteers were already arriving at our house, I quickly signed the paperwork, jumped in the truck, and dashed off… or lumbered off—26 feet is a very large truck.  (The next size down was 16 feet, which was too small.)

After I ran over our water main housing and spent 30 minutes trying to maneuver this monster around a hairpin turn driveway, we started to pack.  Half way through we discovered we had no license plate.  It had been torn off by the previous customer, the packing tape used to repair it still flapping from the part that read “Oklahoma.”  What should we do?  We were on a tight schedule, and every imaginable fix would put us at least a day behind if not more.  (Were we going to make these eight 70-year-old Presbyterian retirees from Kimberly’s work unload and reload into another truck?)  Since the car carrier we would be pulling had its own license plate, I decided that would suffice.

We hurried back to the rental office to hook up the carrier with my Honda only to find the turn signals were not working.  They called someone to come out and look at it, and he replaced a fuse to get it working.  We got 20 miles down the road when we realized one of the indecipherable dashboard gauges was close to empty.  There was no manual in the glovebox.  We called the rental office and they said, “That is the DEF gauge.  It will ruin the engine if you drive with it empty.  You have to come back and let us fill it.”  And so we turned around and drove back.

We planned to make it to Indianapolis by bedtime where Kimberly’s family was gathered to wish us goodbye on our West coast adventure, but that bedtime was getting later and later.  At dusk we pulled off the interstate for gas and supper.  When I started the engine back up and flipped on the lights, the pavement in front of the truck stayed dark.  We had no headlights.

We started phoning Budget for help.  It was a nightmare of epic proportions—they could not even find our truck in their system—it didn’t exist–even though I gave them our reservation number, our license plate number (from our paperwork) and the VIN number stamped on the truck itself.  Realizing we could make it nowhere that night, we found a hotel a mile down the road, and with my emergency flashers blinking, I managed to get us there in the dark.  I pulled out my last-ditch plans—if we could make it within a few hundred miles of Seattle, I could back the Honda off the car carrier and drive all night to make it in time for the practicum, coming back for Kimberly afterwards.

The next day Budget rerouted us away from Indiana and through Kentucky to a mechanic who works on their trucks.  We thought it might just be another fuse.  He spent several hours on the truck, slowly discovering that the whole electrical system was malfunctioning.  We would have to unload and reload a whole house’s contents into another truck, but Budget was sending a team to do that for us.  The team arrived.  It was one guy.

I finally admitted our schedule was shot.  I would miss my Monday classes… and Tuesday classes… and Wednesday classes so as to unload.  I might fail out of practicum and fall a year behind, but I had to let it go.  We’ve learned to accept disappointing reality with a sigh: “It is what it is.”  We say it often.  We stop fighting the inevitable and rest into the mystery of God, a mystery that seems to saturate so much more of our lives than the lives of our friends and family members.  We long for “normal” lives, but our road never seems to take us there.  Perhaps our faith is stronger because of it.

Posted January 16, 2018 by janathangrace in Personal

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